November 13, 2009
OAS observers on fact finding mission

Preparations for the Constitution referendum on November 25 have been given the thumbs up by two visiting election observers from the Organisation of American States (OAS).{{more}}

Senior Specialist in the Department for Electoral Cooperation and Observation at the OAS, Steven Griner, and his assistant, Yndira Marin, were in St. Vincent on a two-day scouting mission, and met with key stakeholders involved in the referendum.

The OAS and other regional and international organizations, including the OECS and CARICOM secretariats, have been invited by the Government to observe the referendum.

So far, according to a Ministry of Electoral Affairs spokesperson, only the OAS has officially confirmed participation.

While here the pair held bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace, Minister of Electoral Affairs René Baptiste and Supervisor of Elections Sylvia Findlay Scrubb.

“We have been well received by all concerned in the sense that we feel that we will be able to observe these elections very comfortably,” Griner said in an interview with Searchlight.

“So far there have been some concerns expressed by the Opposition, and I know that they are meeting with the supervisor of elections so I am going to let them detail what those concerns are.”

Griner indicated that agreements had been signed with the Government and the Supervisor of Elections to guarantee privileges and immunity in certain areas.

These include free access throughout the country in order to monitor some of the events taking place leading up to the vote, as well as access to any information needed concerning voters’ lists, returning officers and preliminary results, among other things.

“Yndira and I are looking at other facets: the rules of the referendum and how those rules might differ with other elections. Also party and campaign financing, we look at media access and how much coverage is given to each side.”

According to Griner, while Marin will return next week with a logistics expert, 15 short-term observers are expected here two days before the referendum.

These observers will be deployed one per constituency on Referendum Day, after being trained.

They are expected to report to Griner and Marin at least three times for the day, if all goes as expected.

“If there are problems, of course they will call us.”

Following the referendum, a report will be made to him by the various observers and he will in turn file an official report to the 34-nation OAS.

His reports, along with recommendations, will be kept in the organisation’s historical archives.

Griner added that the Washington, D.C-based OAS, which was formed in 1948, had been involved in numerous electoral and referendum observation missions over the years.

He indicated that he had been involved in two such events, the most recent in Bolivia this year.

He stressed that the observers were not coming to take a side in constitution debate and referendum but to see that voters are able to freely exercise their democratic franchise on November 25.